THE BLOG

Sugar, Where Are You Hiding?

05/26/2015 09:51 am ET | Updated May 26, 2016

You don't always see something until you look for it. Branches hanging over sidewalks and holes in my clothes have taught me this lesson. And now sugar has.

The recently released "Curbing Global Sugar Consumption" report from the World Cancer Research Fund International written by Bryony Sinclair and Corinna Hawkes highlighted the overconsumption of sugar around the world. Just like reality television, sugar is relatively cheap to produce and keeps people entertained. But also like reality television, it can be difficult to avoid consuming sugar, and overconsuming sugar can be very bad for you. Sugar overconsumption can lead to obesity and all the health problems associated with obesity.

The report highlighted policies that can curb sugar consumption, including raising awareness of sugar in products. You may already know that many beverages can be loaded with sugar. In case, you don't know or recall, take a look at the following photo:

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In the photo, the plastic bag next to each drink is the amount of sugar in that drink. And of course, sugar lives in candies, jellies, jams, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, and other baked goods. But sugar can hide in many other places less obvious. So myself and Cara Shipley, registered dietitian and a Research Program Coordinator at the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at Johns Hopkins, compiled the following 10 ways that sugar tends to hide in what we eat and drink. (Cara deserves credit for any intelligent and helpful things listed here. Anything unhelpful or unintelligible is probably from me.)

1. It's in the label.

Do fashion labels matter to you? Would you recognize the difference between a Rolex and a Relax watch? Do you pay as much attention to food labels? Take a closer look at the sugar content in the labels of foods that you eat. You may be quite surprised...

2. Sugar by any other name...

However, these days you may need a thesaurus when reading a label. Have you ever run into someone who changes his or her name to change his or her image, but really remains the same person? That's sugar. Sugar can go by many different names:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Free Flowing Brown Sugars
  • Fructose
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert Sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Muscovado or Barbados Sugar
  • Panocha
  • Powdered or confectioner's sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar (granulated)
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado sugar

In the end, these are all sugars. Of course, not all of these different types of "sugars" are exactly the same... and may have different impact. But if you want to substantially reduce your sugar intake, don't think that just "substituting" sugar with maltose or brown rice syrup will do it.

And be careful about anything that's been "sweetened," such as sweetened yogurt. While treating a person well can make you seem sweet, it is not necessarily the same with food.

3. Don't be saucy.

Saucy can work if you are celebrity but is not always good for food. Sauces frequently have lots of calories, salt, and... you guessed it... sugar. Even sauces that don't taste sweet can be loaded with sugar. Have you checked out how much sugar is in spaghetti sauce? Just as Superman and Supergirl act differently when they are in their civilian alter ego garbs versus their hero costumes, a food drenched in a sauce acts like the sauce. You don't always realize how much sauce you are actually eating. For example, the only way a friend of mine would eat vegetables would be to drench them in sauce so that he could no longer taste their original taste and texture.

Any liquid substance that you pour on food to change its taste is in effect a "sauce" and can have lots o' sugar. These include ketchup, salsa, and salad dressings like the one that Cara here may or may not be using:

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If you want to cut down on sugar, either forego sauces or make "sauces" from items that do not have added sugar such as plain tomatoes.

4. Dairy to be different.

Lactose intolerant and feel like the Goodyear blimp after you eat some dairy products? Perhaps you have used non-dairy substitutes to escape the lactose. Be careful, though. Many dairy substitutes such as soy, almond, and coconut milk can be loaded with sugar.

5. Bread the wrong way.

Bread, bagels, English muffins, and many other bread-like substances can have quite a lot of sugar, corn syrup, or the equivalent.

6. Are you cereal?

Cereal doesn't have to be kids' cereal to have a lot of sugar. Many seemingly healthy "adult" cereals have added sugar or syrup.

7. Meating some sugar.

Are you a meatasaurus who thinks that eating mainly meat will keep you away from sugar? Not necessarily. Many luncheon meats can be infused with sugar, and barbeque sauce can make you a sugarsaurus.

8. You never know what happens in the can.

Many things in a can (e.g., canned vegetables and fruits), a box (e.g., granola, popcorn, flavored oatmeal, crackers, and frozen pizza), or bag (e.g., trail mix or chips) are not alone and room quite closely with sugar or the equivalent.

9. How much did you drink?

Beverages can be a deceptive source of sugar. Sodas certainly. But so can juices, vitamin water, and sports and energy drinks. Coffee and tea can also have sugar with them.

10. What a jerkie.

Many dried foods such as beef jerky, trail mix, and dried fruit can be sugar sources.

So sugar is all around us. Completely avoiding sugar is quite difficult... unless you don't eat... which would cause other problems. But being more conscious of what you eat to cut down sugar intake (especially the hidden sugar intake) is quite possible. Just keep yours eyes open for sugar... and low-hanging branches...